Egypt After Mubarak: Labor Strikes Escalate
Feb 14, 2011
Sarah A. Topol
CAIRO, Egypt -- Employees of the bank, transport, tourism and police sectors, as well as factory workers, demonstrated today to demand better wages, contracts and benefits. As waves of labor strikes escalated across Egypt, the new military government took additional steps to subdue protesters while urging all stripes of demonstrators to go home.
The labor unrest continued to shut down parts of the country, thwarting the return to normal urged by the now all-powerful military, which took control of the country when President Hosni Mubarak stepped down Friday.
The armed forces have taken steps to control and appease the population, including opening a dialogue with youth activists who organized the initial demonstrations that continue to send shock waves throughout the Middle East.
The Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution, a self-selected alliance of pro-democracy groups that organized the Jan. 25 protests, said today it met with military leaders Sunday night to discuss reforms.
Today, the coalition issued its demands for a transition to civilian rule by establishing a technocratic government within 30 days, saying a new legitimate government would better stop job walkouts.
"I think a lot of these strikes will be solved by changing the government, which I stressed on about the coalition government and how it should be quickly met," Shadi El Ghazaly, a leading member of the youth coalition, told reporters.
The group said the army had taken steps in the right direction by opening a dialogue with the coalition, but urged a 12-point reform program for the next six to nine months. The demands include a timeline for the end of a transitional period, the release of all political detainees and removing the three-decade-old emergency law.
The coalition set a 30-day deadline for a civilian technocratic council to replace the current cabinet, a remnant of Mubarak's time in office. It threatened continued demonstrations if its demands are not met.
"We are asking the government to choose them, but they know who we trust and we know who we don't trust," El Ghazaly told AOL News. "We're telling them [the military] the kind of people that we want, and we hope they will respect that."
A military statement read on television said Egypt needed a calmer climate in this "critical stage" to eventually transfer power to an elected civilian administration. It did not specify a date. It also warned that continued demonstrations would hurt the country's security and economy, giving power to "irresponsible parties" to commit "illegal acts," according to The Associated Press.
The youth coalition said it was planning on meeting the army again this week to continue to press demands, calling the first meeting a "zero point" to establish a dialogue. The group acknowledged that it does not represent everyone who demonstrated in Cairo's Tahrir Square but is a "channel" for dialogue with the new military government.
The coalition includes members of the April 6 Youth Movement, the Muslim Brotherhood Youth, supporters of Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and independent activists. In a sign of the youth-led revolt, the group's demands also included lowering the age for parliamentarian candidates to 25 and for presidential candidates to 35. Currently, parliamentarian candidates must be at least 30 and presidential candidates 40.
On Sunday, the army suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament, both welcome moves to demonstrators who have been calling for new elections and a new constitution. The armed forces pledged that free and fair elections would be held under a revised constitution, but did not give a timetable.
The army also promised to lift the country's draconian state of emergency, but again did not specify a deadline, and said the cabinet, appointed by Mubarak last month, would remain in power.
The spontaneous protests initially drew strength from their disparate members, but with Egypt in transition, disagreement over the negotiation process with the military continues to emerge. Some doubt the sincerity of the army, which formed the backbone of Mubarak's 30-year regime, and disapprove of negotiating with the top of the command chain.
"Now the military junta are making more or less useless statements which do not really say anything, except that they are the ones in charge, giving us promises about the transition to democracy," said Hossam El Hamalawy, a journalist and prominent blogger on workers' movements. "They are now warning against so-called chaos instigated by industrial actions. However, let's remember ... the working class are the ones who toppled Mubarak.
"Those striking Egyptian workers are not going home anytime soon. They cannot go home to their starving children to tell them the military promised us that they will solve our problems within X number of months. These are both economic and political demands by the working class that have to be met immediately," El Hamalawy said. "These strikes constitute our only hope that we have a revolution that's unfinished, to be completed."
*Photo by Mohammed Abed, AFP